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How was your time off?

Stressed out woman, sitting at her desk.

Honestly, I struggled about what to discuss this month. I’d anticipated August to be a light month punctuated by days at the lake, and a few client calls. Hardly. It’s been a different year with no shortage of uncertainty: interest rates, inflation, an uncertain forest sector, war, unstable markets, a wobbly labor market, and, most recently, wildfires.

Uncertainty aside, I attribute this month’s pace (is it really Aug 21st?) to the fact that Pivotleader deals, primarily, with mature businesses owned and managed by long-time business owners who aren’t content to just “be”. Seeing opportunity, some want to grow their business, some want to focus on systems, and others want to look at how they can onboard new employees and reduce staff turnover. One thing that’s universal: not one business owner wants to work more.

I came across statistics this week from a 2019 Australian poll of small business owners:

  • one in four (26%) hadn’t had a break for at least four years.

  • 30% had no intention of taking a break in the next 12-months.

  • 55% said that they weren’t taking a break because the business is dependent on them.

Did I catch you nodding?

While these statistics are five years old and from the other side of the world, I’ve no reason to think that a similar 2023 Canadian poll would produce significantly different numbers. In fact, due to the current skills shortage, the numbers are likely worse.

If you haven’t taken a holiday from your small business this year, what’s your plan? I ask because I’ve yet to meet a business owner who consciously set out to build a company that couldn’t run without them.

At the same time, if you’re struggling for an answer, you’re not alone. It’s an important question, because the fatigue that accompanies burnout is very real, and along the way it attracts some very unhealthy life-bandits including alcohol and drug dependence.

So, it’s August now. There are four months left in the year. I have some ideas for untethering yourself from work and, in the process, maybe achieving some clarity along the way. Here’s my two-week challenge to business owners:

1. Get clear on why you do what you do. I didn’t set out to channel Simon Sinek, but I guess I’m asking you to ‘find your why’? Why do you do what you do? Did you forget? It’s common to embark on a venture only to feel stuck and frustrated after a period of time. So, over the next two weeks, ask yourself why you’re here. This is important, as meaning is closely tied to motivation and if you’re not sure why you do what you do, there’s a high likelihood that your team isn’t sure either. On some level, you might be contributing to your staff turnover.

2. Be honest, do you have a “2IC”? Pronounced “two-eye-see”, 2IC is an acronym for Second in Charge or Second in Command. I ask because while you may consider yourself self-made, I can’t think of a successful company that operates without a strong supporting cast. As the leader, it’s your job to find your 2IC. They seldom just appear.

A personal story. In 2003, our little software company had successfully attracted investment from the US. In short order, my world as co-founder had changed. The pressure was intense. We were going in circles and hoping no one else noticed. There was demand to take the company public and we needed a plan and timeline to give comfort to our new stakeholders. Things became clear over a breakfast in Calgary with one of our early investors. He said to us, “Who’s the 2IC? I don’t care which one of you is the ‘leader’, but no one expects the leader to be everywhere at once. Do you trust each other? One needs to be seen as the point man, but he must be supported and seen as being supported.” He paid the bill and left us at the restaurant, it was then that we redoubled our efforts to prioritize and divide the many tasks ahead of us and meaningfully communicate about what we were working on and how it we felt it was progressing.

3. What would happen if you didn’t go into work today? Would staff be lost without you? For how long? What if you went in late, or left early? I haven’t met many business owners that are absolutely required to be at work at the beginning of the day, let alone at the end of it. Often, they just assume that they should be there. Have you fallen into this trap? When “work” becomes a place to go out of habit, an alarm bell should ring.

The message here is to be purposeful with your work week. Try this – let your team know that you’re taking Friday off. Believe me, the workplace won’t fall apart without you. If it does, then you have some systems to attend to. It’s all good growth work.

4. Schedule Everything:

Schedule the other roles in your life – Bottom line: what gets scheduled, gets completed. You are more than a business owner – you have other roles. For example: are you a spouse, a child, a parent, or a friend? All these relationships need nurturing. Personally, I’ve learned that when I schedule time for people in my personal life, I’m happier. When I don’t, I’m not. Last year, a long-time friend thanked me for “scheduling time for him”. His sarcastic tone hurt, but I decided not to react. Instead, I pointed out that I was glad I scheduled the time because I didn’t want to leave our relationship to chance. How many of your relationships are languishing because you “haven’t got around to calling”?

Schedule what matters – We all have things that we need to attend to. Are you overdue to meet with your family doctor or the financial planner? Have you taken your suit to the cleaners? How about the oil change for the car? Is the recycling piling up? Items that are easy to brush-off often bite us in the end. If you take a moment and tally them up, you’ll easily find a way to get little things taken care of so that they don’t turn into big things.

Recently I heard Jay Shetty, a popular blogger and podcaster, enthusiastically endorse “scheduling everything” … e-v-e-r-y-thing. I think he’s on to something because if you start scheduling everything, sh*t gets done and it reduces the amount of idle time your mind has to wander over to that rabbit hole of social media.

5. Put the phone down - In our modern device-driven world we’ve become slaves to the screen, so this task might be a tough one: Switch to airplane mode for one or two hours a day and you’ll be amazed at how much more you get accomplished. If this is challenging for you, switch to airplane mode during your business meetings or zoom calls. Ask others in the meeting to do the same, you’ll have better meetings, and they will likely be shorter.

6. Get some sleep: In his book, “Think like a Monk,” Jay Shetty (yes, him again) points out that we spend 33-years of life sleeping and another 7-years of our life just trying to get to sleep. I’m not sure about Shetty’s math but the point is well taken - sleep is as important to us humans as exercise. Lack of sleep has been found to contribute to a number of conditions and may be linked to Alzheimer’s so maybe the catchphrase should be “Remember to sleep. Sleep to remember.” Even the Government of Canada has acknowledged the importance that sleep plays in stress reduction: 36.3% of adults who get insufficient sleep report having chronic stress compared to 23.2% of adults who get adequate sleep.

Wrapping up ... My hope is that at the end of two weeks, you’ll have a achieved the following:

  • You’ll know why you do what you do.

  • You’ll be able to confidently state whether you have a 2IC.

  • You’ll have taken at least one Friday (or Monday) off and found that the sun still came up the next day.

  • With fewer distractions, you’ll discover some things about you, your life, and your business that you hadn’t noticed before.

  • You’re spending less time on your device at night and getting more sleep.

If you follow the two-week challenge, my bet is that you’ll be in a different headspace. I’m not suggesting that you’ll have resolved your biggest challenge or opportunity, but you’ll be better position to do so, and you’ll be in a better position to plan.

Next month is September. For many it’s a symbolic time of year punctuated by a return to school, and a return from holidays. Many treat it as a time to blow the dust off the strategic plan and ‘get back to it.’ With that, next month we’ll invite you to reconsider your approach to strategic planning so that you can make the most of the months ahead.

Norm Adams, MBA, is a Certified Professional Business Coach with more than 25-years business experience in both Canada and the US and can be reached directly at He points that although the days are still long and warm the “air has changed”. There’s a crispness to the days that wasn’t present a few weeks ago. Autumn is stirring, do you have a plan for the rest of the year?


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